President Nicolas Maduro’s decision last week to put Venezuela’s armed forces in charge of food and other basic goods won’t ease the average Venezuelan’s growing hunger pangs. He must be shown that there are consequences to this frightening expansion of military control by the government of the country with the world’s largest oil reserves.

Venezuela’s abuses disqualify it from heading Mercosur, the region’s trade group – or even belonging to it. Venezuela’s neighbors, as well as the European Union and the Vatican, must step up the scrutiny and pressure.

The U.S., meanwhile, can beef up its forensic accounting and quietly make clear to Venezuela’s military how easily targeted sanctions for corruption and human rights abuses can be expanded. These measures should also be accompanied by offers of immediate humanitarian assistance.

In the last year, crippling shortages of food and medicine have only gotten worse. Yet those with access to dollars at the gwovernment’s preferential exchange rate – roughly 1/100 of the black market rate – are doing mostly fine. Maduro’s willingness to tolerate a 1,000 percent inflation rate shows his contempt for the middle class. He seems intent on following in the bootsteps of the Castros’ Cuba, where the military owns well over half the economy.

Stopping this power grab will require an end to the toxic impasse between Maduro’s government and the legislature controlled by the opposition: the freeing of political prisoners, judiciary and electoral reforms, and tolerance for free expression and dissent.

From peace in Colombia to new governments in Argentina, Brazil and Peru, the arc of history in the Americas is bending in a brighter direction. It would be a shame if Venezuela were the exception.